Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Auto adjust

So, the other day, the inside driver's door handle on my little Smart Car broke,. I was, of course, attempting to exit the car when the failure occurred. The flap-like lever that I pulled made a little "pop" and the cable it was pulling no longer seemed to have enough tension to trip the activator. My guess was that one of the braids of the cable had snapped and the cable itself had lengthened just a bit, but regardless of the diagnosis, there was no opening that door from the inside.

I could exit through the passenger door, but as small as the Smart is, that still required climbing over a stick shift and hand brake - not very smooth. The work-around was fairly simple: roll the window down and open the door using the outside handle, which still worked just fine. There were just two problems with this plan.

The first lay in the Smart's autolocking doors: as soon as the car reaches ten miles per hour, the doors lock, and the outside handle obviously won't work if the doors are locked. There is no unlock mechanism on the door or on the dash - the only way to unlock the door (besides the inside handle) is the button on the clicker. But the button on the clicker won't work if ignition is on. But the windows are electric and can't be operated if the ignition is off. So the routine had to go something like this: stop, roll window down, turn ignition off, unlock door, reach through window and open door, turn ignition on, roll window up, turn ignition off again.

The second problem was more physical: the Smart car's geometry puts the exterior door handle behind the driver and about even with my ears, calling for a maneuver with a relatively high degree of difficulty. Try reaching behind you at head height and imagine doing it through a window to pull something laterally and you'll feel what I mean.

All this to say that I took the car in posthaste to get fixed: I didn't want to out up with this rigmarole any longer than I had to. I took the car in on a Thursday; because they had to order a part it stayed at the shop over the weekend until Monday, and it was going to coast me about $500. Pretty steep ticket for a snapped cable, but I need to get in and out of the car, right? I went back to a bus commute for a few days, no problem, and a buddy dropped me off at the shop Monday.

There was a fellow ahead of me getting an estimate on having his wheel bearings re-packed.  They were making noise so he was worried about taking the car any distance, and he needed to make a trip to Portland sometime soon. After some calculating, the price came back: about $500. The fellow hesitated a little, and then decided that he wouldn't leave the car just then, but would have to wait until next week, because the $500 was more than he could spare, and he'd have to wait until after he got paid again before he had enough to do the work. He drove off with his noisy, dubious brakes.

This was a moment that made me realize how good I have it. I had not hesitated to get my car door fixed and the repair was just to correct an inconvenience, not to ensure safety. The bill was an annoyance,  but not a deal-breaker: my daily routine would not be affected, I would not miss a meal, I would actually feel no effect except perhaps a deferred luxury or a little less in savings at the end of the year. I was reminded that I no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck and what a great privilege that is: it has not been all that long that I have been in that situation and I know plenty of people for whom it is still out of reach.

Moments like this preserve, I hope, my compassion and generosity of spirit. I can't spend money that doesn't hurt without remembering all my brothers and sisters who have less, or who have no money to spend at all. I find ways to give back, big and small, planned and unplanned; if I didn't, I'm not sure how I could go on.

I had been down in Seattle the previous week at a training sponsored by a business association for area professionals (and some academics like me). The day-long session ended with a "heavy hors d'oeuvre" reception in the hotel bar:  sliders, quiches, shoestring potatoes, fried cheese balls, the works. I couldn't stay long, and when I left I passed a homeless woman on the street outside the hotel. The contrast between the money being thrown away five stories above on people who didn't need it and this real person's immediate unmet needs was palpable. I was part of both those worlds. How could I not spare a couple of bills?

I'm not rich, and I like what I have, but I think I want to always remember how lucky I am, and to always remember those who are a little less lucky.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blog fog

So, I had had high hopes for blogging this year, here and on Thark, and even on TNG. I have a science fiction anthology I was going to blog my way through, some Hawaiian comics I need to review, an obscure 70s TV movie to reminisce about, a restaurant mascot to deconstruct, and a bunch of miscellaneous images to share. But of course, all that was planned before the administration of Dolt 45 became a reality and we were suddenly faced with a daily cocktail of intolerance, incompetence, and greed.

It's hard to blog about comics when you feel like we are barely slowing down the slide to authoritarianism.

I mean, we've had politicians aplenty who have skirted the law, cut corners, shaded the truth, and otherwise misbehaved, but never before have we seen an executive who not only breaks rules, but seems to ignore their existence completely, along with any other facts that are inconvenient to his will. Even prior miscreants accepted that rule of law was the way this country worked; I am not sure the current Executive Branch has that same acceptance.  Everyone in the White House from the top down seems to be either ignorant or contemptuous of the system of checks and balance: when the court disagrees, it is a "so-called judge" who made the ruling; the press is the "opposition party".

Eighteen executive orders in three weeks, was it? The entire administration so far has been nothing but a series of misguided, mean-spirited, and likely unconstitutional commands and instructions to be cruel instead of kind, divisive instead of inclusive, dictatorial instead of collaborative.

The Democratic party, with few exceptions, has rolled over and is trying to pretend this is business as usual. After eight years of Republican obstructionism, Democrats still seem to think that somehow they can find middle ground with the GOP. Despite a catastrophically unsuccessful election, the DNC seems intent to stay the course and keep the status quo, ignoring all the young and independent and disaffected voters who could be their new, active, vocal base. All it would take is a rejection of neoliberalism and a return to New Deal values.

But without an opposition party that puts up any opposition, it has been left to us, the people, to provide the resistance. Marches every week, every day, in cities across America; phone calls and postcards and emails keeping the pressure on politicians to do the right things; donations to the ACLU and groups supporting journalism, as it seems that the free press is under attack along with our human rights and lawyers may be our only line of defense. It's activisim, and it's the right thing to do, and it's exhausting.

Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York magazine, captured this feeling:
One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago.
This is what I am talking about.  It's hard to write about comics when you feel like we are barely slowing down the slide to authoritarianism.

But we must stay active and keep pressing. Some of us work harder than others: the water protectors camping at Standing Rock, the pro-bono lawyers operating on airport floors, the refugees trying to stay in the shadows or risk being be sent back to hell. It's the least we can do to continue to march, and call, and write, and donate, every week, every day, in cities all across America.

But, dammit, we shouldn't have to.

But, dammit, we will.

You might just have to wait a little longer for that funny story about the new Dungeons & Dragons campaign.